I prod the numbers slowly with an unaccountable desire that push buttons had not elbowed out circular dials. There would be something indefinably delicious in waiting for the finger-slots to unwind after each number - thus delaying the impossible.
And it is the impossible call I happen to be making.
I have abandoned my family on an impulse of rage and desperation. No real flashpoint - simply years and years of marital give and take leading to the inevitable down-beat crescendo of departure. Having watched the children grow into near adults, I could no longer bear the thought of witnessing the descent of two real adults like me and my wife into the second childishness of acrimonious, if concealed, senility. And, with no exagerration, the word senility rings true, amid the blurred dreams of existence that my mid-life crisis has become. And it is surely wishful thinking to call it mid-life at all - unless such wishful thinking should actually be classified as pessimism. Whatever the case, it all rings true.
The phone is indeed ringing, too: back in the old homestead, where so many joys and sorrows flowed under the bridge of sighs ... memory being a ghostly fluid more like red air than that honest-to-goodness blood which is said to flow thicker than water. My thoughts are only a smidgeon short of senility, I realise, as I listen to the impotent ringing tone in the ear-piece. Nobody at home. But they are always at home at this time on a Saturday, aren't they? But that is when I am there, of course.
The bedsit where I have ensconced myself is in a randomly chosen town up north. The map I used is in the smelly dustbin outside. Nothing like home. There are strange seedy neighbours only the other side of walls little better than cereal boxes. They grunt, without speaking. The toe-capped neighbour above is someone I have not seen because he does shiftwork, although the evidence of his existence which he left in the toilet was only too apparent. The communal kitchen is a greasy, dingy affair with one ill-positioned power point and a gas-stove that may have seen better days, but probablly not. Nobody dares to leave their comestibles in such a kitchen. A far cry from my suburban semi in Surrey.
I may have to cry. I open the window, horn my hands and hollow, thus hoping that West Yorkshire and Surrey are closer than the map. Trusting that the window at home is also open to catch the strains of my pigeon chest. Indeed, I feel as if I have birdbones - a mutant poultry critter who ended up here, because the National Health Service has no room for me in its asylums. Where do they put monsters these days, if they should be born? My own children are beauties of their type. It is strange though - I cannot remember what they look like and, in the sudden passion of leaving, I did not think to pack photos.
It has only been a couple of days. But much can happen in a few minutes. People can go under buses. Have brain haemorrhages. Strokes. Amnesia. Love turn to hate. But, equally, hate can turn to love just as abruptly, even before you are able to say Knife. The phone is picked up at the other end and a familiar voice answers: "734921" - the numbers reeled off in a rhythm that is immutably Marie's.
"Donald! Where are you?"
I can actually hear my son practising his flute in the background, something that brings me right down to Earth from the spectral clouds of senility with which I have mispeopled my Heaven.
Just as the phone was answered down south, one of my plug-ugly neighbours poked a head round my door, evidently in need of a cup of sugar. Why neighbours always want such an item is beyond me. Sugar is the worst thing anyone could consume, short of perfect poison.
"Hold on..." I have said to Marie, absently placing the handset whence it came. I wander over to the heavy-duty sideboard which is positioned under the net-choked window. I hear rain flashing. The huge electric advertisement hoarding outside pulses red. I feel as if I am being uninvented piecemeal - like circular dials on telephones - even as I stand here in two minds.
There was a full bag of sugar already in this bedsit when I arrived, if I remember correctly. I will soon get rid of the intruder, perhaps forever, by giving it all away in one fell swoop.
Meantime, whilst headless chickens can flap on, they cannot use telephones. Nor wing off messages. Nor write, come to think of it - even in pidgeon English. I am evidently a few moments too late to beat senility at its own game - and, listening to my neighbour shambling off with sweet ill-gotten gains, I replace the handset with not a further murmur.
(Published 'Oasis' 1994)